TITLE: Pra Lersi Tai Fa
TYPE: mask
COUNTRY: Thailand
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Wai Kru Ceremony; Korb Siam Kru Ceremony
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: plaster; gold leaf; paint; ribbons

Lersi, a hermit sage, is an adherent of a minority religion in Thailand derived from the Indian Brahmin and Buddhist traditions. The Lersi path is accessible to the laity who wish to dedicate themselves to benevolent spiritual goals. The Lersi believe themselves to acquire supernatural powers, such as healing, levitation, teleportation, pyrokinesis, transmutation of matter, and telepathy through such practices as self-isolation, meditation, and training.

The mask is used in the Korb Siam Kru ceremony as a blessing and purification, to drive away evil spirits.  It is also used in the Wai Kru ceremony to transmit Buddhist merit from the giver to the receiver.  In all cases, the mask is worn on top of the heard as a crest, rather than over the eyes like a helmet.

Lersi masks take many forms, including Brahmin gods and animal spirits.  This specific mask represents Pra Lersi Tai Fa, an incarnation of the Hindu god Shiva, who has a third eye that burns all it gazes upon (although, in the strict Brahmin tradition, Shiva has no incarnations). The ribbons indicate it was used in a Wai Kru ceremony.


TITLE: Kumu Nsembu Mask
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Democratic Republic of Congo
DESCRIPTION: Nsembu Nkunda Society Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Secret Society; Adult Initiation; Divination
AGE: 1980s-1990s
OTHER MATERIALS: kaolin; pigment

The Kumu or Komo people inhabit the Ituri rainforests in the eastern part of Congo.  They are agriculturalists with animist traditions.

A culturally important ritual for the Kumu people is the circumcision of boys as they enter adulthood.  The nsembu mask is used exclusively by members of the Nkunda Secret Society for the purposes of adult initiation. They also use the mask for divination under the effects of hallucinogens.  The mask itself represents the diviner’s spirit.  Kumu masks are somewhat rare, but the known examples tend to have wide open eyes and mouths, frequently with sharp teeth.